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Rhyme and reason: Seamus Heaney HomePlace pays lyrical tribute to the poet


A new arts hub in Bellaghy, mid-Ulster, celebrates the life and legacy of the Nobel prize-winning poet, while its rural surroundings offer glimpses of the landscape that inspired him

There are two pubs and a couple of shops in Bellaghy, County Derry, a small village in the rural heart of mid-Ulster. To many people, it is an ordinary place, and yet something extraordinary has just happened. A former RUC police station has been restored and turned into a contemporary arts and literary centre, with fans flying in from all directions to celebrate the life of Bellaghy’s local son and national hero – the late Seamus Heaney. Given the full blessing of the Heaney family, the first thing that strikes you as you walk into Seamus Heaney HomePlace is a 4.5m-high, black-and-white photo of Heaney, along with the words from his most celebrated poem, Digging, which closes with:

“Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.”

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From Schubert to Sinatra: why the song cycle speaks to the heart


A new English version of Die Schöne Müllerin offers a reminder as to why it’s Sinatra – not his classical contemporaries – that matches Schubert in ambition

It’s an everyday story of country folk. You’re walking beside a stream when you come across a water mill. It’s a family-run business and the miller’s daughter is a lovely girl. You fall in love with her, and perhaps she does with you. But a huntsman turns up, steals her heart and breaks yours. The End.

With an update or two – the mill becomes an organic farm perhaps, the huntsman a gamekeeper – it could almost be an Archers plot, but in 1823 the Viennese composer Franz Schubert made it the subject of a set of 20 songs, Die Schöne Müllerin (The Lovely Miller-Girl). Schubert had found the poems the previous year, part of a newly published volume of poetry by his near-contemporary Wilhelm Müller, and he immediately started to compose settings for them; they were published in 1824. Three years later, Schubert wrote a second set of songs to Müller’s poetry, Winterreise (Winter Journey), and with these two works he launched a new genre, the song cycle.

Related: Ian Bostridge on singing Schubert’s Winterreise - an indispensable work of art

Fischer-Dieskau’s 1951 recording of Die Schöne Müllerin with Moore remains one of the finest ever made of this cycle

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The Saturday poem: Moments of the mind


by William Letford

Three men sit at the kitchen table. My grandfather
smokes Golden Virginia. Making a roll-up
has become his ritual. His fingers help him think.
So that’s what he does. He teases tobacco from his tin.
My father smokes Silk Cut and has a certain way
of holding a cigarette. Trapping it at the base
of his first two fingers and lifting it to his mouth
so his hand covers the lower half of the face. I don’t smoke
but there is a bowl of soup in front of me. Both men
like to see me eat. The room has been stained
by two lifetimes of tobacco, and doesn’t
physically exist. But it’s where I come for advice. In fact
both men no longer exist, but their voices are as familiar
as my own failings. I slam my spoon on to the table.
Well if that’s the way it is then that’s the way it is.
“That’s the way it is,” says my grandfather.
My father nods his head. He says, “That’s the way it is.”

• Taken from Dirt (Carcanet). To order a copy for £8.19 (RRP £9.99) go to bookshop.theguardian.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99.

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Aberfan 50 years on: how best to remember the tragedy?

In 1966 a coal slag heap collapsed on a school in south Wales, killing 144 people, most of them children. Poet Owen Sheers went back to the pit village and, using the people’s own memories, created a ‘film poem’ to commemorate the disaster

• Click here to read extracts from The Green Hollow

‘How to talk about it? That’s been a struggle from the start.” Jeff Edwards, 58, pauses and shifts his weight in the armchair. We’re sitting in the front room of his house in Aberfan where for the past hour Jeff has been describing for me some of the difficulties experienced by the village in trying to negotiate the ongoing tightrope between memorial and healing, between sharing and silence, in the wake of the disaster that befell them 50 years ago. “Personally I found speaking about it better for me,” he continues, “in terms of my recovery. But other people, well, they just cannot speak about it at all.”

It was the last Friday before half term – 21 October 1966 – and, like hundreds of other children across Aberfan, Jeff set off for school that day looking forward to the holiday ahead of him. School would finish early, at midday, after which lay the promise of a whole week of playing with his friends in the orchards and farmed fields on the slopes above the village. A heavy autumnal mist was still lying thick in the valley when Jeff left his home for school. From early on, however, Aberfan had made itself heard, if not seen. Children who lived at the bottom end of the village, near the “black bridge”, would have woken to the colliery hooter at Merthyr Vale pit sounding the change of shift, and to the rattling of the “journeys” too – drams [trucks] on tracks carrying coal waste, tailings and grit up to the top of tip No 7, looming on the mountainside above the rows of terraced houses.

My idea was to begin with a single voice, then to have the voices of the village grow exponentially to a climax of 144

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The Green Hollow by Owen Sheers – extract


To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1966 Aberfan disaster, the Welsh poet and playwright has written a ‘film poem’ based on the voices and memories of those involved. The following passages are extracts from a work that will be broadcast on the BBC later this month

• Click here to read Owen Sheers’s piece about making the work

Around eleven we assembled in the chamber,
to be informed of the plans.
‘We’re setting up mortuaries,’ they said.

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Poem of the week: After the Dragonflies by WS Merwin


A luminous depiction of these beautiful creatures conceals a stark warning of environmental catastrophe

After the Dragonflies

Dragonflies were as common as sunlight
hovering in their own days
backward forward and sideways
as though they were memory
now there are grown-ups hurrying
who never saw one
and do not know what they
are not seeing
the veins in a dragonfly’s wings
were made of light
the veins in the leaves knew them
and the flowing rivers
the dragonflies came out of the color of water
knowing their own way
when we appeared in their eyes
we were strangers
they took their light with them when they went
there will be no one to remember us

Related: Poem of the week: You, Lizard-like by Lynne Hjelmgaard

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Melissa Lee-Houghton: 'Articulating your experience is remarkably life-affirming'


To mark World Mental Health Day, the Forward prize-shortlisted poet talks about how writing has figured throughout her psychiatric recovery

During my first prolonged hospital admission, at the age of 14, I wrote. At that West Yorkshire in-patient unit, I witnessed other patients cut their own throats, burn their skin and swallow glass. At this stage, I wasn’t medicated so I endured all of this by writing letters to the other girls; this soon evolved into my reading and writing poetry.

I kept my poetry to myself for the most part, though some of the nurses read it. Writing helped me feel as though I was releasing some of the anguish that I’d been forced to keep to myself. But in later years and at later admissions, I was medicated and my capacity for writing was diminished, by both the medication and the inhibiting influence of routine. Psychiatry provided a simplistic framework for living, but rarely allowed me opportunities to articulate my distress.

A person’s psychological distress is reduced to a pill, a prescription and a diagnosis. I tried something else: I wrote.

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Odes by Sharon Olds review – in praise of tampons and other taboos

A new collection from the TS Eliot prizewinner finds beauty in the outrages visited on ageing bodies

Sharon Olds’s inspired new collection alerts us to taboos we barely think about ordinarily. The book is exposed – in more ways than one – and could only have been written by a woman: bold, no longer young and inextinguishably curious. In one poem she reports that her partner mocks her: “My partner says that what I write / about women is self-involved. You’re sixty / something years old,” he exclaims, “and still/writing about the first time you got laid!”

Actually, Olds is now 73. And here is a test: if, on reading her Ode of Withered Cleavage, you squirm, you will need to fortify yourself further before sampling the neighbouring poems: Ode to the Clitoris, Blow Job Ode and Douche Bag Ode. And now take a second look at the cleavage ode and reflect that it is Olds herself recoiling with reflex distaste at what age does to a woman’s body, made trickier because the woman in question is her mother.

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Unseen documents revealed on new website dedicated to TS Eliot


A digital trove of letters, essays and photographs disclose the Nobel laureate’s views on detective fiction, poetry publishing – and his ‘dread’ of the US

A timely essay by TS Eliot, in which he warns that “it is because I care about the future of England, that I must care also for the future of France; and it is because I must believe in the future of England, that I must look with confidence to the future of France”, is being published for the first time in English on tseliot.com, a new website launched by the poet’s estate and Faber & Faber, the publishing house where he was a director.

Featuring hundreds of unpublished letters by Eliot, along with rare material including photographs from the collection of his late wife Valerie Eliot, the site is free to access. Faber press director Henry Volans said he hoped it would show all sides of a writer whom the Nobel prize committee said in 1948 had made an “outstanding, pioneer contribution to present-day poetry”.

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TinyLetter: the mini saviour of modern poetry?


TinyLetters are a simple but radical new email marketing tool that could save poetry and short fiction from obscurity by winning authors a bigger audience

The idea of the TinyLetter is largely self-explanatory: you sign up to a mailing list from which emails are then sent out with varying regularity – some are daily, others biweekly, some even monthly. The diminutive “tiny” is appropriate because there is an emphasis on brevity. And note that they are termed “letters”, not “newsletters” – newsletters being irksome things trying to sell you cheap flights or fashionable clothes, while letters offer a more personal, perhaps even somewhat antiquated conceit.

Related: Lena Dunham's newsletter is a victory for the letter-writing renaissance

The Lunchtime Poetry letter has a high open-rate: 'It's a simple and enjoyable daily routine'

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'Dylan towers over everyone' – Salman Rushdie, Kate Tempest and more pay tribute to Bob Dylan


Salman Rushdie, Cerys Matthew, Jarvis Cocker, Andrew Motion, Billy Bragg and other artists and writers pick their favourite moments from Dylan’s body of work

Darkness at the break of noon
Shadows even the silver spoon
The handmade blade, the child’s balloon
Eclipses both the sun and moon
To understand you know too soon
There is no sense in trying

Pointed threats, they bluff with scorn
Suicide remarks are torn
From the fool’s gold mouthpiece the hollow horn
Plays wasted words, proves to warn
That he not busy being born is busy dying

Then she opened up a book of poems
And handed it to me
Written by an Italian poet
From the 13th century
And every one of them words rang true
And glowed like burning coal
Pouring off of every page
Like it was written in my soul from me to you
Tangled up in blue”

Well, it ain’t no use to sit and wonder why, babe|
Even you don’t know by now
And it ain’t no use to sit and wonder why, babe
It’ll never do somehow
But I wish there was somethin’ you would do or say
To try and make me change my mind and stay
But we never did too much talking anyway
But don’t think twice, it’s all right.”

In the dark I hear the night birds call
I can feel a lover’s breath
I sleep in the kitchen with my feet in the hall
Sleep is like a temporary death.”

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Sjón: why Olso’s Future Library is a fairytale come true


The Icelandic poet follows Margaret Atwood and David Mitchell as the latest contributor to the Future Library anthology. He describes the magic behind the project

My favourite Icelandic folk story has to do with the future. In it we learn about an old couple living in poverty on a desolate farm in a dark and narrow valley somewhere beyond the bluest mountains. The storyteller makes much of their poor circumstances and their old age. They were so frail they could barely move. The man was about 80 years old, she was over 90. Their farmhouse was sinking into the earth.

Related: Margaret Atwood's new work will remain unseen for a century

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Poster poems: bus journeys


A communal space offering an ever-changing view of life passing by, buses have opened windows on to the world for many poets. Share your bus verses here

I’ve been reading Peter Riley’s recent pamphlet Pennine Tales, and the first thing to really strike me about it (apart from the quality of the writing) is the ubiquity of buses and bus trips through the poems. These are short, local journeys in and around Riley’s adopted home of Hebden Bridge, the kind of trip that makes life possible for the carless local or for anyone who fancies an evening in a local pub. Reading the poems made me think of the way bus journeys have formed part of the fabric of so many poems in the last century or so.

Related: On National Poetry Day we should be championing the artform’s diversity | Bridget Minamore

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Peace Talks by Andrew Motion review – from Craiglockhart to modern day warfare


The former poet laureate harnesses language’s transformative capacities to communicate the pain and grief of conflict

Peace Talks is the first book of poems from the former poet laureate since he left these shores for the US. Opening with an epigraph from Spinoza’s Ethics on the virtue of finding words for our suffering, it is a volume in which peace, quite literally, talks: after the ravages of war, there are still “Little towns that nobody had touched. / People living there / all the same. / Just living there / in the vastness.”

Through a surprising formal and tonal range, drawing on reported speech, streams-of-consciousness and more lyrical reflections, Motion attempts to harness language’s transformative capacities to communicate the pain and grief of conflict, from Wilfred Owen at Craiglockhart war hospital, to lance bombardiers and corporals currently in military service. Elsewhere, there are broader musings on mortality and posterity, as one writer’s books “fly into a skip / along with the other unwanted things / that go where a life ends”. But it is the poems addressing war’s aftermath that convince, revealing a hopeful dimension to Motion’s tender, sombre verse.

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Slakki: New & Neglected Poems by Roy Fisher review – a collection with extraordinary vision


From Birmingham’s city blocks to memories of war to restless skies – the quality is consistently high in this collection of work from the past 65 years

In 1951, citizens still chafing at postwar rationing were treated to the Festival of Britain; Newcastle won the FA Cup; Anthony Powell published the first volume of A Dance to the Music of Time; and in Birmingham the young Roy Fisher was appearing in the student journal Mermaid. Given that he has had 65 years to reprint these juvenilia, they must be some of the “neglected” poems announced in the subtitle of his new book.

In one of his 1951 poems, “A Vision of Four Musicians”, we are treated to “tenuous music” played by travelling musicians and “fragile as an echo from the journey they came”. Tenuous Fisher’s music may be, but over his long career he has been uniquely adept at catching echoes lost on other, noisier poets. His first pamphlet, City (1961) takes British poetry to places it had never been before, thematically and stylistically, capturing Fisher’s native Birmingham at a moment of postwar transformation and showing the effects of early exposure to the work of William Carlos Williams, Robert Creeley and Charles Olson. The 1960 poem “Night Walkers” was originally intended as part of City but is collected here for the first time. Pitched somewhere between TS Eliot’s “Preludes” and Terence Davies’s film Of Time and the City (“Darkness hisses at the town-blocks’ end”, and “There’s a smashed box of wind in every street”), it displays the combination of intimacy and distance, fever and calm, that is such a feature of Fisher’s writing.

Still suspecting there may be nothing more to itself
than optical tricks and water vapour
it works even harder to be remembered,
colouring its sunsets with particles
from all the barbecues and crematoria of the North.

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Why I took the slow train to become a fan of Bob Dylan


How 1984 marked the start of my career as a poet and my admiration for the Nobel prize-winning songwriter

As a poet, I’m supposed to be attracted to Bob Dylan as a lyricist. Even as a fellow poet. That’s the received wisdom, and it’s certainly true that I’ve come to Dylan through a series of recommendations and tips, nearly always from other writers. It was the poet Matthew Sweeney who first explained to me that Highway 61 Revisited and Bringing It All Back Home were the two albums I shouldn’t be able to exist without. And it was Glyn Maxwell who explained to me that the best of Dylan didn’t stop with Blood On The Tracks.

He also let me in on a fact that all Dylan fans have committed to memory. Namely, a man hasn’t found true love until he finds the woman who will hang on to his arm the way Suze Rotolo hangs on to Dylan on the front cover of Freewheelin’. No one else will do.

Related: Why Bob Dylan deserves his Nobel literature win

Bowie’s transmutations have always had the look and feel of something new. Dylan, by contrast, has always been retro

Related: Bob Dylan's Nobel prize isn't radical. He's just another white male writer

I wouldn’t claim listening to Dylan made me want to write … but his lyrics alerted me to the potential of storytelling

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Carol Ann Duffy: my pick of British and Irish poetry


A new anthology celebrates the music, accents and independence of poets since the earliest times

On a seventh-century night in Northumbria, the Venerable Bede tells us, a lay brother and cattle herder named Caedmon had an extraordinary experience. Caedmon was not a literate man, and when social gatherings turned to song he would make his excuses and leave. On this night, when the harp came to him, he rose to tend the cattle and fell asleep in the stable. He dreamed that a man appeared. “Caedmon,” said the man, “Sing me a song.” But Caedmon did not know what he could possibly sing. “Sing about the creation of all things,” said the man. And Caedmon did, singing lines that he had never heard before; lines of such beauty, says Bede, that they moved the hearts of many to heaven.

“Nu scylun hergan,” Caedmon began. “Now we must praise … ” And poets have praised ever since.

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Prime Minister’s Literary awards 2016: novel with print run of 350 makes shortlist


David Ireland’s The World Repair Video Game shortlisted in fiction category alongside Steve Toltz and Charlotte Wood

A novel with a print run of only 350 copies is among the works shortlisted for the $80,000 fiction prize in the Prime Minister’s Literary awards.

David Ireland’s first novel in two decades, The World Repair Video Game, was published by Tasmanian-based literary journal Island firstly as a serial and then as a limited-edition hardcover. The three-time Miles Franklin award winner has been shortlisted along with Forever Young by Steven Carroll, The Life of Houses by Lisa Gorton, Quicksand by Steve Toltz, and the Stella prize-winning The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood.

Related: Tim Winton on class and neoliberalism: 'We're not citizens but economic players'

Related: Bookmark this: from Fielding to feminism – October's literary highlights

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Poem of the week: Medley for Morin Khur by Paul Muldoon


Beneath its bright, musical texture, this meditation on an obscure musical instrument carries some very dark reflections

Medley for Morin Khur

The sound box is made of a horse’s head.
The resonator is horse skin.
The strings and bow are of horsehair.

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Stephen Lawrence poem by Benjamin Zephaniah donated to British Library


Manuscript of What Stephen Lawrence Has Taught Us, which was written to help drive search for the teenager’s racist killers, will be displayed in the library’s galleries

Benjamin Zephaniah has donated a handwritten version of his poem What Stephen Lawrence Has Taught Us, in which he writes of how “we know who the killers are”, to the British Library.

The poem about Lawrence’s murder, which Zephaniah wrote in 1999, will be displayed in the Treasures of the British Library gallery from Tuesday, alongside work from writers including Angela Carter, whose manuscript of The Passion of New Eve features in the gallery. A spokesperson for the library said that “while the library of course regularly receives donations and acquires valuable items, it is rare for new items to be displayed in the public gallery”. Zephaniah’s poem is the first new item to be displayed in the gallery’s contemporary collections since the acquisition of Kenneth Williams’s diaries in 2015.

Related: What Stephen Lawrence has taught us

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